Friday, 11 October 2013

Have I made a terrible mistake?

This is an excerpt from a 2-star review for Red Grow the Roses on
"It hurts me to say I didn't care for this book. At all.
I have read a couple of this author's other books [Heart of Flame, The King's Viper ] and REALLY LOVED them, but so much of this just wasn't for me. I like erotica, but I'm just not into shame, and rape, and whatever like that. I like sexy sex between two people who WANT it with each other. Sadly, that is only present here a small portion of the time. So the rest just made my skin crawl."

Ouch. Poor reader. I mean it - what a disappointment for her! - and I'm not in the business of trying to disappoint my readers.

Actually, I feel this is my fault entirely. The reader has started with two of my American publications - for Samhain and for Ellora's Cave - and she's really enjoyed them (AND written enthusiastic reviews online, which makes me feel worse). Coincidentally, they're the two novels I've written which are not straightforward erotica. They've got plenty of sex in them, oh sure, but the focus is on the growing love relationships, so they're technically romance despite the copious bloodshed and anal sex, and both have Happy Ever After endings.

Then the poor reader has (Yay!) tried one of my other books. And she's found out that my other novels just aren't genre romance. There is a HFN ending for trying-to-be-good-guys Reynauld and Amanda in Red Grow the Roses, I suppose ... but only after they've been horribly morally compromised and it's been made clear that they're inevitably going to get worse. We're talking about vampires here, guys.

So, the thing is ... should I have written the more optimistic and romantic stuff on my spectrum under a different name? Is it fair to lure innocent romance fans into the murkier depths of my erotic imagination?

Certainly other authors have made this distinction. KD Grace writes her genre romance as "Grace Marshall". Kay Jaybee is branching out into the sweet stuff as "Jenny Kane".

Should I have done the same?  Should I have had a "Janet Ashey" pseudonym?

And yet ... where do I draw the line between erotica and romance? I write what appeals to me at the time, and sometimes it's heavy on the emotion and sometimes it's heavy on the kink, and sometimes it's heavy on both. If anything, my romance is more likely to be angsty and doom-laden than my erotica. Wildwood has a blossoming romance relationship, but I'd definitely call it erotica. I'd put The King's Viper in sort of the same category, even though it's a lot more monogamous and the heroine's a virgin. Argh, does virginity change everything?

I'm all torn and confused!

Future publication Cover Him With Darkness is intended to be a non-erotica trilogy, by the way. It has kinky sex and domination, but it's all about the characters and how they relate (and  how they are trying not to get killed by each other). I may be getting deeper into the mire of confusion here.

I have to be philosophical about this, I guess. I tell myself:
1) It's too late now.
2) At least she didn't pick up Named and Shamed...

And BTW, at the World Fantasy Convention this year, I'm going to be on a panel that discusses precisely this topic.
SUN 11:00 am–Noon
By Any Other Name: What Makes an Author Change Their Byline?
These days even J.K. Rowling is doing it with a pseudonymous crime novel! Is it always a good idea when an author publishes their work under a different name? Is this solely a creative or marketing decision, or are there other reasons—and repercussions—when writers allow their work to appear under an alias?


Jeremy Edwards said...

I wouldn't worry too much about this. I think there's a good case to be made for either approach, but authors have no obligation, imo, to guarantee that their books resemble one another. "Branding" is one way of fostering reader loyalty, but I don't think every author has to conform to that practice. Author branding is a convenience for readers and a marketing strategy, not a de facto requirement. It's not like we're cranking out boxes of breakfast cereal that are all expected to taste exactly the same.

I'm very particular in my reading tastes, and I know that authors can roam all over the map. Just because I enjoyed one book doesn't mean another book by the same author will be up my alley. Blurbs and previews and reviews are invaluable resources for someone like me—and if I don't want to be blindsided, it's ultimately my responsibility to avail myself of those resources.

K D Grace said...

A thoughtful post, Janine, and I empathise. It was the right move to write the Exec Decisions trilogy under a different name, but where do you draw the line? I've gotten unhappy reviews from readers for my Lakeland Heatwave trilogy because it's paranormal and they were expecting more of Holly or Pets, but the Lakeland books are never something GM would write. Sigh! I've often wondered if I should have had a third name for those books, but I can barely remember who is who in my head as it is:-) Thanks for the mention, BTW.

Teresa Noelle Roberts said...

I write romance and erotica under the same name, but my romances tend to be kinky and my erotica tends to be romantic so there's likely to be bleed-over readership. If I start publishing more straight-on fantasy, I'll probably use a different name. I honestly don't know what the solution is. But these days it seems easy enough to have a pseudonym for various genres while keeping it clear for more adventurous readers it's all the same author. Look at Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick/whatever her third name is--the book covers say it's all the same person, but the pseudonyms make it easy to pick out which of her subgenres you're following.

Janine Ashbless said...

Aw Jeremy, you make me feel so much better, thank you!
I'm pretty sure publishers and agents would love their writers to stick to exactly the same formula and "brand" every time - it makes selling stuff so much easier. And some readers really do demand the breakfast cereal approach. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I hate to see fiction as a "product". It's ART.
(And no, real art shouldn't be a product either!)

Janine Ashbless said...

KD, that's really interesting about your reader response. Just adding a supernatural element is enough to alienate some fans? Oh dear.
It's not like we can write every series under a new name, is it??

Janine Ashbless said...

Yes Teresa, it does seem that nowadays the author name is less about saying (or hiding) who wrote the book, and more about market branding. "X WRITING AS Y" has to go straight on the cover. It's like readers can't be expected to cope with anything unexpected...

My problem is that I write cross-genre stuff so much. It's fantasy and urban paranormal and erotica and romance and horror - or any combination of the above. I'm sort of doomed.

Eloise said...

Erotica is always going to be hit and miss - even if you stay in the same genre, unless you stay really, really tightly focussed there's going to be stuff you like and stuff you don't - if you look at authors that write BDSM do you like spanking? Paddles? Crops? Whips? Most people say yes at the start and no by the end but not everyone likes even a single smack. If you like spanking OTK is OK, but is even a single smack to the face acceptable and so on?

Like Jeremy, I read the blurb and take a risk and accept that sometimes a book or story, even from an author I like, just won't hit the spot for me. Such are people's urges, kinks and tastes.

The pseudonym thing in general I don't know. But in JK Rowling's case I can a wider case for it. She is still shifting books to kids in large numbers. Her other book isn't really erotica but is definitely aimed at an adult market as I understand it. You wouldn't want a 7 year old picking it up and reading it by mistake. It's not like she tried to hide who she was from the adults. That was Stephen King's trick...

Jeremy Edwards said...

P.S. I've seen how you promote your books, and it seems to me you really go the extra mile to caution potential readers about what's in store for them. If someone is shocked, I can't imagine it's through any failure on your part to duly advise.

Jo said...

Ultimately, J, I think readers need to take responsibility and ... Read The Cover First. I know it's easier to say as someone who prefers the edge to the Romance. So far I've only been frightened by one book - Shanna's piper of Hamlyn story freaked my right out and put me off. But... I don't know. Different publishers, different descriptions etc. It should be enough.

Janine Ashbless said...

"Erotica is always going to be hit and miss" - especially spanking stories ;-)

Janine Ashbless said...

Thank you Eloise and Jo, for your sensible and sound words. Yes, yes yes - if only all the world saw it that way.

Saranna DeWylde said...

I think you made the right choice.

I have multiple pen names, but one was at a publisher request and the other was my memoir, which is in a completely different genre. If I had my way, everything would be under Saranna, except the memoir.

As long as you're honest in the blurb about the content, that's on the reader. Of course you don't want to disappoint them, but managing multiple pen names is total time suck. Further, you've already got visibility as Janine and every new title you put up helps with your visibility and the way your book comes up in searched on the various e-tailer's sites.

Like some other commenters mentioned, not everyone is going to be happy with everything you write. And that's okay.

Keep your chin up, doll, and keep writing the stories that move you. Because if they move you, they're going to move others. Maybe not everyone, but that's okay. :)

Janine Ashbless said...

Saranna, that's lovely - thank you! I feel uplifted now!

Kay Jaybee said...

Basically you can't win! As you kindly mentioned in your excellent post- I have picked a new name for mu non-erotic romantic stuff, but I now find myself in the position of not knowing which name to place the thriller I'm just dying to write under- it'll be dark and a bit sexy- so Kay?? But, it won't be erotic- so Jenny? Or do I have to be someone else as well? It's clear from our blurbs, and often the cover shots, what style of book readers are letting themselves in for, so they must take some responsibility- but hell, it is a really tough call! Hugs, Kxxx

Jacqueline B said...

As someone whose inclination is to write all over the shop, I sympathise (though have yet to need to make the choice, really). I think it is harder with erotica and romance because people's tastes can be quite particular and personal. I think if you keep going as you are, you'll be fine - some readers will be disappointed (because what writer hasn't disappointed us in someway?) but others will also be surprised and intrigued by picking up something they might not normally read.

A good post, and great comments here too - much food for thought!

Janine Ashbless said...

Hah - that's it in a nutshell, Kay! Oh my goodness ... well, maybe I've just opted for the simplest solution after all :-)

Jo said...

I think so! What's to stop readers reading some of your stuff, and not others?

t'Sade said...

I made the decision to split out my byline this year for that very reason. I know that t'Sade has some topics that make people uncomfortable, but I had the sweeter stuff mixed in.

I kept getting comments about how "this story is so sweet, and then I clicked on another link." So, I created D. Sadie and made it public that they are the same person but without a lot of links back to t'Sade. That way, anyone looking for something sweeter can do it without accidentally stumbling into more extreme fetishes.

Now, the drawback of bylines is that I have to write more in both to keep them alive. :)

I think there are advantages and drawbacks to keeping everything in the same byline or creating a second one. The latter takes a lot more work, the former has the fear of people getting something they don't expect.

Personally, I don't mind greatly differing styles in a single author. But, I'm also remarkably open-minded about everything I read.

Tilly Hunter said...

I went the opposite way round to the reader you've referred to. I read Named and Shamed and thought 'fuck me, that's brilliant' because it's so daring and extreme. Then I read The King's Viper and thought, 'well, that's kinda sweet but not what I was expecting'. Then I read Red Grow the Roses and thought 'fuck me, that's brilliant'...

I knew The King's Viper was more romantic - because you've said so. I still probably didn't fully appreciate what that meant until I read it. But I have come away from the experience psychologically unharmed. I enjoyed reading it. If I hadn't, I would have put it down and read something else. And I wouldn't give it a low-star review just because it's not 'my thing'. The fact that I've loved some of your books doesn't mean you owe me more of the same.

Janine Ashbless said...

Oh good grief, I want to hug you guys. You are all so awesome and smart and grounded.

Tilly, you get a double hug for being a bit disappointed the other way round! ;-)

Craig Sorensen said...

The other comments hit all the high points, but I'll just add that some of my favorite authors are the ones who have surprised me, both in positive and negative ways.

It's called range, and you've got it.

You should flaunt it!

Janine Ashbless said...

Thank you Craig - I appreciate that. And it's lovely to see you here again!